Lucid Intervals

Schizophrenia is a disease characterized by visual and auditory hallucinations and paranoid delusions. It frequently manifests itself in late adolescence or early adulthood. People who suffer from schizophrenia live in a world where some of what they perceive is real and some is illusion, but they cannot differentiate between the two.

Researchers have announced the tentative identification of genes that may be linked to schizophrenia. That’s good news, but it’s gotten me thinking. What would life be like if I had developed schizophrenia 20 years ago, just as I was graduating from college? What cruel delusions would I hear the voices in my head whispering?

“The president says we’re at war, but he won’t say who we’re at war with. The military has taken prisoners from several different countries and they’re keeping them locked up on a military base in Cuba. They all have to wear orange suits and no one can talk to them. And Americans, there are Americans who have been arrested too and put in special jails and no one can talk to them either. And the middle eastern men, there are dozens of middle eastern men in jail and the government won’t say who they are or where they are or how many or what they might have done and I hear they’re being secretly deported. And the president, he wasn’t really elected. He lost the election, but he got his brother, the governor of Florida, to put in a fix and cheat people out of their right to vote.”

If Mark Floegel of 1982 thought he’d be saying these kinds of things in 20 years, he might have gone over to the mental health clinic to get checked out. Problem is, the more I think about paranoid delusions, the more I come up with.

“There are people out there trying to blow up airplanes with bombs in their shoes, so if you’re in an airplane, you have to be careful if someone starts playing with their shoes. The people in the airports make you take off your shoes before you can get on the airplane.”

And it’s not just paranoia about the government. Paranoia comes in many denominations. Roman Catholic, for example.

“The priests have been molesting children. It’s been going on for decades, but no one knew about it, because there was a conspiracy among the bishops and cardinals to keep it secret. Anybody who got molested, the church would pay them money to keep quiet. The police and prosecutors looked the other way for years because the church is so powerful.”

But these are only the recent ones. As it turns out, I might have gone schizophrenic in 1982. There was plenty of delusional thinking in the 1980s, if you knew where to look.

“The president says Iran is a terrorist nation, but we’re secretly selling them weapons to use in their war against Iraq, but we’re selling weapons to Iraq, too. We’re supposed to hate Iran, but we’re sending them Bibles and cakes shaped like keys. All the money we make by selling weapons to our enemies, it goes into Swiss bank accounts and we use it to finance revolutions against governments in Central America.”

If I really were a paranoid schizophrenic, the solution would be simple; I’d go live in an institution for the rest of my life. The mental illness we suffer from is not personal, it’s social. We’ve allowed ourselves to indulge in all kinds of delusions – that politicians can be trusted to use power sparingly and wisely, that business leaders will be responsible stewards for investors and conscientious supervisors for employees. A few years ago, two guys wrote a book called “Dow 36,000.” Were they crazy? Was their publisher? How about the people who bought the book?

In security, the economy, in politics, we’ve all been disillusioned lately. There’s more to come in the months ahead, but we should not see this as an opportunity for paranoia. What lies before us is a lucid interval – a chance for social sanity. Let’s make the most of it.

(C) Mark Floegel, 2002

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